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COULEE CITY, Wash. — Pumped up with muscular air-intake hood scoop, bulging side skirts and tail-mounted flying wing, a sporty Impreza 2.5 RS coupe bears the badge of Subaru but seems vaguely out of place among Subaru's line of utilitarian sedans and rugged all-wheel-drive wagons.
It's uncharacteristically racy, and those big alloy wheels, tinted to a brilliant gold, look flashy and fast.
So why would Subaru — the Japanese automaker recognized as a world leader in traction technology and whose image in the United States has been honed by the durability of a practical line of all-wheel-drive vehicles — promote a sporty little coupe that could very well run circles around all of the other vehicles in this line?
For an answer, we must search outside North America's boundaries to discover another image for Subaru that has been developed on other continents, where automobile rally racing receives the kind of sports attention that football fans in the United States reserve for contests like the Super Bowl.
In countries like France, Japan, Argentina and Australia, rally races pit driver and co-pilot against maps and clocks and daredevil competitors tearing across treacherous roads wound through cities and countryside — and Subaru wins the world rally title time after time, thanks to gutsy drivers and the wily nature of Subaru's rally car, the Impreza 555.
That Subaru, with modifications like a roll cage added and high-output engine aboard, served as inspiration for the Impreza 2.5 RS Coupe, which mixes incongruously into Subaru's array of rather tepid sedans and wagons.
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This Subaru sports coupe showed up on eastern slopes of the Cascade Range in the state of Washington for a series of driving tests.
A walk-around briefing before the driving began revealed how the 2.5 RS was created. Origins trace to the two-door-coupe variation of Subaru's subcompact Impreza sedan, which first appeared in 1995 with optional horsepower and a link to Subaru's all-wheel-drive system.